The definitive guide to alt-milks like almond, soy and even banana

Photo via Kjokkenutstyr Net

The definitive guide to alt-milks like almond, soy and even banana


The definitive guide to alt-milks like almond, soy and even banana


It can be a little intimidating navigating the sugar and milk station at your local coffee shop these days – and, for that matter, the refrigerated dairy coolers of the grocery store. Oh, and then there’s the non-refrigerated milk section too, usually buried in a center aisle. These days, we have more milks than most of us frankly know what to do with, and food manufacturers aren’t showing any signs of slowing down the rollout of new options.

How does each alt-milk stack up nutritionally? Which, like true dairy milk, need to be kept refrigerated? And maybe most importantly, which mix well into a cup of coffee? Here’s what you need to know about the ever-growing list of alt-milks.

Almond milk

For the past couple of years, no milk has reigned quite as supreme as almond. Though almonds are frequently knocked for their massively ecological impact – it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond to maturity – consumers have all but turned a blind eye to the environmental cost of their favorite alt-milk. In 2017, 64% of all non-dairy milk sold in the U.S. was almond.

People love it for it’s mild taste that pairs well with cereal and coffee alike. And speaking of coffee, almond milk is the rare option that both mixes seamlessly with a hot cup of joe, and isn’t so rich as to be unpalatable in an iced latte.

Nutritionally though, almond milk can’t compare to classic dairy. A serving of almond milk has only an eighth of the protein of whole milk, and because of our affinity for sweeteners, many varieties can sport as many as 15g of added sugars. Still, almond milk contains a good amount of Vitamins B12, E, D and A, and surprisingly, more calcium than a glass of milk.

Cashew milk

Consumer interest in cashew milk is certainly growing, perhaps reflexively due to some of almond milk’s frequent negative press. A rising star among the plant-based milk crowd, unsweetened cashew milk contains roughly equivalent nutritional properties as its more famous cousin – which is to say, a decent smattering of vitamins and minerals, but only a gram of protein per serving.

Cashew milk won’t give your coffee that signature creamy quality and color that other milks might, but it can make a great addition to smoothies or a bowl of cereal.

Oat milk

For a usually chilled beverage, oat milk has been coming in hot in 2018. January brought with it a blushing feature on oat milk’s ascent into alt-milk godhood from The New York Times, and Time kept the ball rolling just a few months later. Oat milk is a coffeehouse darling at the moment, owing largely to a brilliant launch campaign from Swedish manufacturer Oatly. Intelligentsia CEO James McLaughlin says oat milk drinks now make up 13% of total sales now across all of its cafes, surpassing soy and almond milk orders.

Oat milk is unique in that it is made by adding water (or canola oil) to liquified oats. As such, it retains all of the plant’s fiber. But because many oat milks – Oatly among them – are certified organic, they lack the fortified vitamin and mineral content of other alt-milks. Still, oat production is fairly easygoing on the environment, which is unfortunately uncommon in this sector.

Hemp milk

Don’t let the name fool you, hemp milk has virtually nothing to do with marijuana. Produced from the seeds of the hemp plant, this alt-milk contains zero trace of the THC necessary to impart any psychoactive effects. What it does have in spades though is the Omega-3 fatty acids more often associated with salmon than cows, every single essential amino acid, about half the protein of a glass of dairy milk, and vitamins A, B12, D and E.

Unfortunately, growing hemp remains largely illegal in the U.S., so the critical seeds used to produce this milk must be imported. As such, hemp milk usually falls on the more costly end of the milk spectrum, even if it is also among the most nutritionally dense.  

Pea milk

Forgive me if you haven’t seen cartons of pea milk circling the carts at your local grocery store just yet, but mark my words: you will. And soon. That’s because peas require 85% less water to grow to fruition than almonds, and the milk created with them boasts as much protein as a serving of dairy milk. Toss in 50% more calcium than dairy milk per serving, and you’ve got a burgeoning alt-milk success story on your hands.

Pea milk manufacturer Ripple is leaning into the green halo of its product, shipping it in containers made entirely from recycled plastics that have a smaller carbon footprint than classic milk packaging. Oh, and one more thing – pea milk is relatively inexpensive, all things considered. A 48oz bottle will only set you back about $5.

Coconut milk

The humble coconut has exploded in versatile popularity in recent years. Once limited to baking flakes, coconut is now sold in stores in the forms of water, cream, and yes, milk. Various coconut milks can contain as few as 80 calories per cup, along with minerals like manganese, copper, magnesium and iron.

Use it in soups and stews or pour it over a bowl of cereal. But most importantly, add it to your coffee with abandon. Coconut milk mixes well with java served both hot and cold, and adds the creamy mouthfeel that people find so appealing about half and half.

Rice milk

Along with soy, rice milk goes way, way back in the day to a time before we ever realized that alt-milks would someday be a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business. But unlike soy – and most of the other products on this list – rice milk doesn’t have a tremendous amount going for it when you get down to the nuts, bolts and nutrition of it. Unfortified rice milk is largely devoid of vitamins, calcium and protein, the three nutrient categories most closely associated with milk.

But rice milk’s blank canvas is also its greatest strength. True, many rice milks on the market today possess a bounty of added vitamins and minerals, but more importantly, rice milk’s relative blandness makes it largely allergen-free. Those who suffer from food sensitvities and immune-system conditions often turn to rice milk as a staple of their diet.

Banana milk

This alt-milk is so new to market, it can be tricky to even find information about it online. That didn’t stop me from picking up a carton (in the non-perishable milk aisle) at my grocery store last weekend though. Loaded with vitamins E, B12, C and D, plus riboflavin, calcium, and of course, potassium, banana milk is one of the more nutritionally dense milks available today. On the flip side, it’s also one of the most sugary, with the carton I bought containing 18g per serving.

Banana milk mixes perfectly with coffee, adding a distinctly rich and creamy texture, with just the slightest hint of banana flavor. It’s likely too sweet to pour it over a bowl of cereal, but it makes a great milk substitute in baked goods.

Soy milk

You didn’t think we were going to end this list without mentioning the OG that kicked off the entire alternative milk craze, did you? Soy milk may have fallen a bit out of fashion in recent years as plucky upstarts like almond and oat claw away at its market share, but there’s no denying that soy is a plant that built a milky fortune.

Soy milk possesses about the same amount of protein as a serving of dairy milk, and is usually fortified with ample amounts of calcium and Vitamins C and D. Though not all brand formulas behave quite the same way when exposed to a hot cup of coffee, soy milk has fallen out of favor in coffee shops because it usually coagulates in a cup of joe. Though you may not be able to taste anything amiss, soy milk-studded coffee just can’t mimic the look of a classic cup spiked with cow’s milk, unless it is first heated up. So between you and me, maybe just save soy for your lattes.

Cockroach milk

While this nightmare milk hasn’t exactly invaded coffee shop milk fridges just yet, a series of scientific breakthroughs has led researchers down a path where cockroach milk is increasingly looking like the milk of your future. That’s because the milk of the Pacific Beetle Cockroach native to parts of Oceania is loaded with dense nutritional content surpassing anything else on the market today.

Scientists believe it’s possible to “milk” female cockroaches by introducing a paper filter into their brood sac. Whether or not it’s possible to recreate the technique at a large enough scale to fortify a cup of coffee, let alone a million, remains to be seen.


More Eat Sip Trip